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abdominal MRI

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Abdominal MRI

Alternative Names 
MRI, abdomen, MRI, abdominal, abdominal magnetic resonance imaging, magnetic resonance imaging, abdominal, magnetic resonance imaging, abdomen

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is a non-invasive imaging technique. It is used to view organs, soft-tissue, bone, and other internal body structures. In an abdominal MRI, the person's body is exposed to radio waves while in a magnetic field. Cross-sectional pictures of the abdomen are produced by energy emitted from hydrogen atoms in the body's cells. An individual is not exposed to harmful radiation during this test.

Who is a candidate for the test? 
An abdominal MRI may be done to check organs and other tissues in the abdomen, including the:
  • liver
  • spleen
  • pancreas
  • kidneys
  • bladder
  • prostate
  • reproductive organs
  • adrenal glands
  • abdominal blood vessels
This test may be recommended:
  • to look for benign or cancerous tumours or lesions
  • to look for abnormal or damaged organs and other tissues
  • to see how tumours are responding to treatment
  • to clarify the results of other imaging tests, such as ultrasound or abdominal CT scans
  • if other imaging tests or certain contrast agents should not be used
People who have certain medical devices and pieces of metal, such as pins or screws in bones or other implants, may not be able to have MRI. Metal interferes with the magnetic field. Tattoos may cause problems, too. And MRI is not usually done during pregnancy. All of these issues should be discussed with the person's doctor or a specialist in imaging techniques called a radiologist.

How is the test performed? 
Before the test, the doctor will ask if the person:
  • has any drug allergies, or history of allergic reaction to medications
  • is allergic to shellfish, or foods with added iodine such as table salt
  • has experienced claustrophobia, or anxiety in enclosed spaces. If this is a problem, mild sedating medication may be given.
A woman will also be asked if she might be pregnant.

As the test begins, the person lies on a flat platform. The platform then slides into a doughnut-shaped magnet where the scanning takes place. To prevent image distortion on the final images, the person must lie very still for the duration of the test.

Commonly, a special substance called a contrast agent is administered prior to or during the test. The contrast agent is used to enhance internal structures and improve image quality. Typically, this material is injected into a vein in the arm.

The scanning process is painless. However, the part of the body being imaged may feel a bit warm. This sensation is harmless and normal. Loud banging and knocking noises are heard by the person during many stages of the examination. Earplugs are provided for people who find the noises disturbing.

After the test, the person is asked to wait until the images are viewed to see if more images are needed. If the pictures look satisfactory, the person is allowed to leave.

What is involved in preparation for the test? 
A person may be told not to eat or drink for six hours before the test. Specific instructions from the imaging centre or radiologist may differ, though, and should be followed.

Some people find it helpful to bring earplugs or ask for a special set of headphones to wear during the MRI. This muffles clicks and banging noises.

What do the test results mean? 
When the test is over, a person is usually asked to wait while the images are examined. If necessary, more images may be done.

After a radiologist analyses the test results, a report is sent to the person's doctor or the patient is given the scan and report in a sealed packet addressed to the doctor who ordered the test. The doctor should then discuss the results with the person who had the test.

Author: Francesca Coltrera, BA
Reviewer: eknowhow Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr John Hearne
Last Updated: 6/06/2005
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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